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January 11, 2011

Monkey Bread, the traditional holiday treat

Some things you cook for your own enjoyment.  Most things, though, are meant to be shared.  So, a squeal of delight when I mention making something is usually enough to guarantee that it gets made.  Everyone, you can thank Jane for the monkey bread!

monkey bread

I am boggled by the number of people I’ve talked to who have never heard of or eaten monkey bread.  If you have not had the good fortune to encounter it in your life, as my brother-in-law put it, it’s like the center of the cinnamon roll in every bite.  Some people do not frost it, but I don’t truck with those people.

When you look at this recipe, you’re going to think I’m awfully lazy.  But I swear, I looked at 20 monkey bread recipes, and they ALL called for canned biscuits.  Add in a new baby (aka the official monkey of monkey bread), and I just went with it.  If you’re turned off by the idea, which I totally understand, Smitten Kitchen makes real dough when she makes monkey bread.

After serving at Christmas, Jane declared that it was better than the time I made pavlovas, heretofore the high water mark of my desserts. Hence, the traditional Monkey Bread of Christmas, hearkening back to the storied holiday of 2010, has now been entered into Helen’s Great Big Book of Holiday Traditions, right after the traditional Gifting of the Wool Socks.

Monkey Bread

  • 30-36 oz. of refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (depending on which type you choose, this is 2-4 containers)
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark does not matter)
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) butter

Cut up your biscuits into quarters.  Mix together the cinnamon and granulated sugar in a bowl or ziploc bag.  Toss your biscuit pieces in batches until they are all well coated.

tossing the dough balls

Place biscuit pieces in a bundt pan.  On the stovetop, melt your butter in a pan, and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, pour in your brown sugar, and boil for another minute, no longer!  (I burned the first batch of sugar boiling it too long.)  Pour the mixture into your bundt pan.

more sugar

Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on how crispy you want it.  This one was baked for almost 50 minutes.  If you believe that monkey bread should be unfrosted, you may find this a bit dry.  I’d increase the butter/brown sugar mixture to 2 sticks of butter, and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, to make it gooeyier.


Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or less to taste

Add cream cheese and butter to a bowl, and beat together with an electric mixer for at least 2 minutes.  Add confectioner’s sugar in 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments; any more increases the risk of it flying all over you and your kitchen when you turn on your mixer.  Your total mixing time should be in the 5 to 8 minute range for maximum fluffiness.  At the end, add your vanilla extract and lemon juice.


I like my cream cheese frosting tangy.  If you like yours sweeter, you could add up to an additional cup of confectioner’s sugar.  Or start with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and add by teaspoons from there, beating and tasting as you go.

This makes enough to glaze the top of the monkey bread, plus plenty left over for dipping! 


December 22, 2009

Harry & David pears


Certain foods always taste like a holiday.  (Like this cake = my birthday)  Harry and David pears will always taste like Christmas to me.

My grandparents would send us a case of them every Christmas.  If they hadn’t arrived by the second week of December, I would start staking out the mail, and checking the crisper drawers to make sure thay I hadn’t missed their arrival.  They are the “Royal Riviera” pears, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else.  They are, without a doubt, the most spectacular pears I’ve ever had.  And they should be, because Harry and David seems to stake their entire brand on them.

For years, Harry and David was mail-order only.  Today, all you procrastinators are in luck — they have local shops at King of Prussia, the Shops at Sagemore and the Willow Grove Mall.  If you need a last-minute gift for fruit-loving friends and family, a case of Royal Riviera pears could start a new holiday tradition.

December 10, 2009

Chocolate covered pretzels

chocolate covered pretzels

Some people make Christmas cookies.  I make chocolate covered pretzels.  My great aunt Helen would send us a tin of chocolate covered pretzels every year, and I will forever associate them with Christmas. Plus, they are insanely easy to make!

everything you need.

The 3 things you need to make chocolate covered pretzels: chocolate, pretzels and wax paper.   Do not forget about the wax paper, or you will be eating pretzel bits you chip off your plate.

Also, buy more pretzels than you think you’ll need — about a third of any bag will be broken ones.  I also look for a slightly thicker pretzel (like Utz Sourdough Specials), so they don’t break during dipping.

underheat, not overheat

You can melt your chocolate in a double boiler, but I have always had better luck with the microwave.  It only takes 45 seconds to a minute to melt half a bag of chocolate chips in my microwave.  Underheat, don’t overheat!  If the chocolate gets too hot, your pretzels will have white marks on them.

The bowl and chocolate are both hot.  The top chips will still look dry when there’s plenty of heat to melt the whole bowl.  Start stirring.  If all the chips don’t melt, run the microwave in 10 second intervals until they’re all melted.

work in progress

Once you have a bowl of melted chocolate, start dipping!  Dip one side, then the other.  Make sure you have chocolate all over (I tend to miss the top edge if I’m not being careful.)

fresh dipped

Clearly, I am not an ace dipper.  That’s OK!


That is why they invented sprinkles!  I’ve used jimmies, pralines, nuts, and sea salt (yes, really.)  You could use crushed up candy canes, Nerds, Heath bars, Oreos… you are limited only by your imagination.  Never has misdirection been so tasty!

pretzel stacks

Chocolate covered pretzels

  • 1 bag pretzels
  • 12 oz. (one bag) chocolate chips

Microwave the chips for 45-60 seconds.  Dip the pretzels in chocolate until they are covered.  Decorate.  Lay on a wax paper covered cookie sheet, and refrigerate.  Makes 25-30 pretzels.

December 3, 2009

Clementines, the ideal fruit


The following was prompted by a lengthy discussion 12 years ago on the ideal fruit.  Not your favorite.  Not the tastiest.  The most ideal.  Now presented in its entirety, the document formerly known as “the clementine manifesto”.

They taste good.  They are sweet, and you rarely get bad ones.

They are good at satisfying both hunger and thirst.  While clearly food, clementines are very juicy, quenching thirst.

They are portable.  They are small enough to fit in a pocket, and you do not need to wash them before eating them.

They are easy to eat.  First, they are easy to peel, then they break into bite-size portions, perfect for eating any time.  And there are no seeds.

They are neat.  You do not get juice, pulp, or bits of any sort all over.  The peel creates a good place to put the rest of the clementine down between bites, yet is biodegradable, so, in the absence of a trashcan, it can be thrown on the ground.

They smell good.  If you’ve smelled them, you know what I mean.

They come at the right time of year.  Summer fruits are delicious, but there are so many of them; how can you concentrate?  Clementines are in season when few other fruits are.

They have positive associations.  Clementines are traditional Christmas gifts, associating them with one of the best-loved times of the year.

They are easy to share.  First, because they are small enough that you can bring a whole bunch with you, and second, because they split apart so easily.

They make people happy.  Yes, giving someone a clementine is sure to bring a smile to their face.

The only compelling counter-case made was for the banana.  But I hate bananas, so there is no banana manifesto.

Oranges are a traditional gift of St. Nicholas, whose feast is December 5th. So, don’t forget to put out your shoe tomorrow night to see if someone will leave you an ideal treat!

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

that turkey is done!

Stick a fork in me… Thanksgiving is done, and not a dish too soon!  I got assigned turkey this year.  Whole Foods was kind enough to brine it for me, and Alton Brown gave me some direction in cooking, and it went off without a hitch.

cheesecake, pie and whipped cream

Four courses, nine dishes, two pies, two cakes and one video chat later, I hope you had as delightful a meal as I did.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!